Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Challenging the Media from a Compassionate Perspective

Media Lens is a UK-based media-watch project, which offers authoritative criticism of mainstream media bias and censorship. It does this especially through its "media alerts".

As they say in their FAQ : "Fundamentally, we wish to reduce suffering wherever it occurs." (...) "We are convinced that the increasingly centralised, corporate nature of the media means that it acts as a de facto propaganda system for corporate and other establishment interests. The costs incurred as a result of this propaganda, in terms of human suffering and environmental degradation, are incalculable." (...) "Media Lens has grown out of our perception of the unwillingness, indeed inability, of the mainstream media to tell the truth about the real causes and extent of many of the problems facing humanity, such as poverty, human rights abuses, war, pollution and climate change. Because much modern suffering is rooted in the unlimited greed of corporate profit-maximising - in the subordination of people and planet to profit - it seems to us to be a genuine tragedy that society has for so long been forced to rely on the corporate media for 'accurate' information." (...) "Our focus is on encouraging the public to look beyond the mainstream to honest, non-corporate media rooted in compassion for suffering rather than greed for profits."

May they be successful.

N.B. : One of Medialens member, David Edwards, has written The Compassionate revolution - Radical Politics and Buddhism.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Least Suffering for the Smallest Number

Title above is taken from the home page of Socrethics.com, a website proposing a "moderate version of negative utilitarianism", an ethical theory which certainly goes toward the best politics on suffering that can be proposed at this time.

Moderate negative utilitarianism deals cleverly with such ethical concepts as preference, consequence, satisfaction/frustration, compensated/uncompensated suffering, hedonism, justice... Side constraints such as basic rights are introduced to mitigate the 'hostility' potential of a 'negative' theory that might let think for instance that killing everybody is a solution to end suffering...

One Socrethics thesis is that "investments in the development and propagation of ethical knowledge have the highest cost-benefit ratio in the fight against suffering", and it is advocated to allocate priority resources to "systems theory of suffering". Elsewhere on the website, Algosphere is mentioned as a resource in "Systematic Study of Suffering".

Several references in Socrethics pages are worthy of a look at :

  • Parfit's mere addition paradox, also known as repugnant conclusion : how should we decide how numerous and how well we will live?
  • Ryder's painism : pain, broadly defined to cover all types of suffering, should form the basis for ethics.
  • Le Guin's Omelas : a utopian city where everything is pleasing, except for the secret of its happiness: the good fortune of Omelas requires that an unfortunate child be kept in filth, darkness and misery...

Socrethics work should be discussed as an important contribution to the politics on suffering, but where can this be done?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A third killing spree tragedy in Montreal academic milieu since 1989

Our town, which is normally so safe, was shocked again yesterday by a violent event (see BBC - Probe into Canada college attack). I hear a psychiatrist on tv today, whose name is Nicolas Bergeron, a specialist in post traumatic stress disorder who works at the Centre hospitalier de l'université de Montréal, and who is also vice-president of Médecins du Monde in Canada. Doctor Bergeron says that a question we should ask now in our society is how suffering has to be managed. He was referring to the gunman's distress, which was manifest long before the event (each of the three events in fact) and was never properly treated.

I concur wholeheartedly with Nicolas. If we are to prevent us from spilling blood all over the place, we have to prevent suffering from driving us mad. Mental illness, said someone, is the worst problem in the world... and the second one is the way we treat it!

Well, there are many candidates to the first rank among problems, but I believe no coherent strategy or prioritizing will ever be possible for dealing with all our various woes until we pay systematic attention to the very basic problem of suffering. Like in this Wikipedia draft page, which might be a beginning among other 'academic' initiatives.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

"Our most important task", says Grace

It is my intention with this blog to link to what people say about suffering in blogs or other medias. Here is an excerpt of Grace Davis' September 10 post entitled Suffering :

"Then, my middle-way self will gently push herself forward and try her best to see the balance of 9/11 and Katrina and everything else. That it's all suffering and that our work is to alleviate suffering, as much as we can.
Then, middle-way self reminds me of our most important task - alleviate the suffering, and start with oneself.
So, I will run. Long may I run." (emphasis is mine)

My comments can be found in Grace's blog.

Besides, as a follow-up to my previous post, I started a 'draft' page for the Wikipedia article on suffering.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Wikipedia main article on suffering

A Google search on suffering refers to Wikipedia among the very first results. Understandably, this popular general encyclopedia might well be, for most people, the first reference concerning suffering in our new contemporary, webmediated, culture.

However, in its present state the Wikipedia article on suffering leaves much to be desired. As goes the warning at the top of the page : "To meet Wikipedia's quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup." I suppose none of us feels ready to show up there and fix things up. But that is an obvious place where to go and start collaborating with other fellows interested in the subject.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Works that are closely relevant to the new approach

Here are, to begin with, two websites and three books that I consider closely relevant to the approach that I am advocating. People who are responsible for these works will be notified that they are cited here, though no particular response is expected. At this time, it is only question of laying the table (setting the stage, I mean).

Websites :

Books :

  • Suffering, Politics, Power : A Genealogy in Modern Political Theory, by Cynthia Halpern, 2002. From the book back cover : "Suffering, Politics, Power argues that human suffering on a global scale constitutes the most urgent and least understood question of contemporary politics and political theory." The author also looks at how suffering has been approached by modern thought until now.
  • Suffering and Moral Responsibility, by Jamie Mayerfeld, 2002. Editorial reviews at Amazon.com say that this is "the first systematic book-length inquiry into the moral significance of suffering". From the book preface : "The world knows an immense amount of suffering, much of it humanly inflicted and much of it humanly preventable. My book seeks to shed lights on the moral dimensions of this fact. Ultimately, it aims to clarify the nature of the duty to relieve suffering, and to encourage reflection on the kind of changes that would be necessary to bring our lives into adequate compliance with this duty."
  • Suffering – A Sociological Introduction, by Iain Wilkinson, 2005. From the book back cover : "In Suffering Iain Wilkinson provides a compelling sociological exploration of human suffering, and its political and moral repercussions." The author is proposing a 'sociology of suffering'.

Suffering as a primary subject by itself

Suffering as a theme is often used to talk about religion, morality, philosophy, etc. That's alright. I propose however that be set up in our culture a place, a new 'domain of interest', where suffering is considered as a primary subject by itself.

Such a place can be set up on the internet, I believe. The purpose of this blog is to contribute to that end by visiting the works which speak of suffering as a first concern. With time, with links to one work and then to another, it is hoped that people of various groups will progressively interlink in one coherent setting to form an internet hub on suffering. For instance it could be in a wiki like Dealing with Suffering which would be developed on a model like The Psychology Wiki. [last two sentences were edited on 2006-09-12]

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Suffering in the Blogosphere

The word suffering is often found in the blogosphere. However, the subject as such seems not to be treated, except in passing (for instance in this) or indirectly (for instance in that). The closest to my topic that I have been able to find until now are those excellent blogs about pain : Pain for Philosophers, and Psychology of Pain. What is the relationship between pain and suffering? This is a question that could be usefully discussed between interested bloggers, I guess.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


I am particularly interested in the topic of suffering since 1976. For a complete story, you may see my Biographical Notes. In short, I have tried in many ways to set up the basis of a theoretical and practical approach that deals with the matter of suffering 'specifically' and 'as a whole'. I am persuaded that approaching suffering in a general, global, systematic manner is quite appropriate, and sorely needed. My endeavor was met only with polite approbation until now, but it has been instructive. I hope this blog will contribute to a better knowledge and management of suffering.